Town of Chelmsford, MA
Middlesex County

§ 195-25 Objectives.

The following sign regulations are intended to serve these objectives: to facilitate efficient communication to ensure that people receive the messages they need or want; to promote good relationships between signs and the visual qualities of their environs and the buildings to which they relate; to maintain visual diversity within commercial areas by avoiding requirement of uniformity; and to support business vitality within nonresidential zones by accomplishing the above objectives without burdensome procedures and restrictions.

§ 195-26 Permit required.

No sign shall be erected, enlarged or structurally altered without a sign permit issued by the Inspector of Buildings, with the exception of unlighted signs one square foot or smaller and temporary construction signs less than 12 square feet in area. Temporary unlighted real estate signs require no sign permit if the erecting agent has obtained a one-year permit from the Inspector of Buildings for erecting such signs.

§ 195-27 Maintenance.

All signs shall be maintained in a safe and neat condition to the satisfaction of the Inspector of Buildings and in accordance with Sections 1404.0 and 1405.0 of the State Building Code.

§ 195-28 Nonconforming signs.

Any sign legally erected may be continued and maintained despite being made nonconforming through change in this chapter, except that no off-premises signs may be maintained after June 1, 1980. Any sign rendered nonconforming through erection of additional signs on the premises or through change or termination of activities on the premises shall be removed within 30 days of order of the Inspector of Buildings. No existing sign shall be enlarged, reworded (unless equipped with movable letters), redesigned or altered in any way except in conformity with the provisions contained herein. Any sign which has been destroyed or damaged to the extent that the cost of repair or restoration will exceed 1/3 of the replacement value as of the date of the destruction shall not be repaired, rebuilt, restored or altered unless in conformity with this chapter.

§ 195-29 Identification number.

All signs approved by the Inspector of Buildings will have an identifying number affixed to the face of the sign in the lower right-hand corner, said number to be at least one inch in height.

§ 195-30 Prohibited signs.

A. 
No moving, animated, revolving, moving light or flashing sign or sign elements shall be permitted, except for traditional illuminated barbershop poles with revolving pillars. Only registered and licensed barbershops are allowed to display a barber pole, and the barber pole shall not exceed 18 inches in height. No pennants, streamers, advertising flags, spinners or similar devices shall be permitted.
B. 
No sign shall be located within 25 feet of the intersection of side lines of intersecting streets unless entirely less than 3 1/2 feet or more than eight feet above grade.
C. 
No part of any sign shall be more than 20 feet in height above ground level or exceed the height of the building to which it relates unless granted a special permit for an exception by the Board of Appeals.
D. 
No part of any sign shall overhang a public way by more than 12 inches, except that on special permit from the Board of Appeals such overhang may be increased up to four feet.
E. 
No billboard or other sign shall be erected or maintained unless its subject matter relates exclusively to the premises on which it is located or to products, accommodations, services or activities on those premises.

§ 195-31 Signs permitted in residential districts.

The following signs are permitted in Residential Districts RA, RB, RC and RM:
A. 
One sign for each family residing on the premises indicating the owner or occupant or pertaining to a permitted accessory use, provided that no such sign shall exceed one square foot in area.
B. 
One sign not over nine square feet in area pertaining to a permitted use or building other than dwellings or their accessory uses.
C. 
One temporary sign not over six square feet in area pertaining to the sale, rent or lease of the premises, provided that it shall be removed within seven days after the sale, rent or lease thereof. Such signs may be illuminated only if granted a special permit by the Board of Appeals upon its determination that such illumination serves public safety and convenience without damage to neighborhood character. These signs require no sign permit if the erecting agent has obtained a one-year permit from the Inspector of Buildings for erecting such signs.
D. 
Unlighted directional signs not exceeding one square foot in area each and pertaining to permitted building, uses of the premises other than dwellings and their accessory uses or prohibiting use of the premises or certain portions of it.
E. 
One temporary unlighted sign not larger than 25 square feet in an area indicating the name and address of the parties involved in construction on the premises. This sign requires no permit if it is not more than 12 square feet in area and is removed within 30 days of erection.

§ 195-32 Signs permitted in business districts.

The following signs are permitted in Business Districts CA, CB, CC and CD:
A. 
Attached signs. One sign may be attached to any one wall of a building, not to exceed an area equivalent to 15% of the front wall area of said building or 60 square feet, whichever is greater.
(1) 
Allowable sign area may be divided between two signs, each sign to be attached to a different wall of the building, and the total allowable sign area shall not exceed an area equivalent to 20% of the front wall area of said building or 80 square feet, whichever is smaller.
(2) 
In the case of buildings with multiple occupants, each occupant is allowed one sign, with the above total allowable sign area divided among them in proportion to their share of total floor area.
(3) 
No attached sign shall extend above the wall to which it is attached. No sign shall be attached to a roof, real or simulated.
(4) 
A building located at an intersection fronting on two public ways may divide the allowable sign area between two signs, each sign to be attached to a different wall of the building, and the total allowable sign area shall not exceed an area equivalent to 20% of the front wall area of said building or 80 square feet, whichever is smaller.
B. 
Freestanding signs.
(1) 
One freestanding sign located within the front yard area of the lot and not exceeding 5% of the front wall of the building or 40 square feet, whichever is smaller, provided that the building has a minimum setback of 30 feet and the sign is so located as to be set back 15 feet from the street line and 20 feet from any side lot line. On special permit from the Board of Appeals the allowable sign area may be increased to 60 square feet.
(2) 
Directory signs. A freestanding directory sign, a sign representing multi-tenants, must have uniformity of size and color, and the overall sign must meet the criteria for freestanding signs.
C. 
Directional signs. No more than two directional signs per driveway. Said signs shall contain no advertising and shall not exceed an area of five square feet each.
D. 
Window signs. One unlighted window sign for each window of the building not to exceed in area 20% of the area of any window upon which located.
E. 
Lighted window signs. One lighted window sign, including all types of internally illuminated signs, whether or not neon, conforming to the following standards:
(1) 
Such signs shall not exceed five square feet in area or cover more than 20% of the window in which they are situated, whichever is less, and shall only be allowed in ground-floor windows.
(2) 
Such signs shall be equipped with a timer which shall permit illumination no longer than 30 minutes before opening or after closing of the business.
(3) 
Such signs shall not flash or blink or use lights changing in intensity.
(4) 
Such signs shall not contain more than three different colors.
(5) 
Such signs illuminated by a neon source shall be composed of primarily single-strand glass tubing with a maximum outside diameter of one inch.
(6) 
Such signs within three feet of a window shall be considered to be a window sign for purposes of these standards.

§ 195-33 Signs permitted in industrial districts.

Any sign permitted in a business district is permitted in an industrial district (IA or IS), excepting window signs. However, a freestanding sign oriented parallel to the street line and not more than 30 square feet in area need be set back only five feet from the street line.[1]
[1]:
Editor's Note: Former § 195-33.5, Billboard Overlay District, added 4-27-2009 ATM by Art. 19, which immediately followed this section, was repealed 4-29-2013 ATM by Art. 26.

§ 195-34 Outdoor illumination.

[Amended 10-16-2000 ATM by Art. 19]
A. 
Purpose. This section recognizes the benefits of outdoor lighting and provides clear guidelines for its installation, so as to help maintain and complement the character of the town. The intent of this section is to encourage lighting that provides safety, utility and security; prevent glare on public roadways; protect the privacy of residents; promote energy-efficient outdoor lighting; and to reduce atmospheric light pollution.
B. 
Applicability. The requirements of this section shall apply to any new construction. With the exception of single-family dwellings and two-family dwellings, if modifications or additions exceed 25% of the gross floor area, dwelling units or parking spaces, all lighting on the property shall be made to comply with the provisions of this section. For the purposes of this section, if the aggregate of any additions or modifications within the five previous calendar years exceeds 25%, the provisions of this section shall apply. The requirements of this section may be reduced by special permit issued by the Planning Board upon a finding that such reduction will not detract from the objectives of this section.
C. 
Standards.
(1) 
Any luminaire with a lamp or lamps rated at a total of more than 2,000 lumens, and all flood or spot luminaires with a lamp or lamps rated at a total of more than 1,000 lumens, shall be of a full cutoff design, with the lamp or lamps surrounded and shielded such that no direct light is emitted above a horizontal plane through the lowest part of the luminaire emitting direct light. If any spot or flood luminaire rated 1,000 lumens or less is directed or focused such as to cause direct light from the luminaire to be cast toward residential buildings on adjacent or nearby land, or to create glare perceptible to persons operating motor vehicles on public ways, the luminaire shall be redirected or its light output controlled as necessary to eliminate such conditions.
(2) 
Illuminated signs, parking lot lighting, building floodlighting or other exterior lighting shall be so designed and arranged that their collective result does not create so much light overspill onto adjacent premises that it casts observable shadows and so that it does not create glare from unshielded light sources.
(3) 
Luminaires used primarily for sign illumination may be mounted at any height to a maximum of 25 feet, regardless of lumen rating.
(4) 
The maximum height of the luminaire shall not exceed 25 feet. A maximum luminaire height of 35 feet may be allowed by special permit from the Planning Board upon a finding that the increase in luminaire height will not negatively impact abutting properties, particularly property used or zoned for residential purposes.
(5) 
Internally illuminated signs on the premises shall collectively total no more than 15,000 lumens.
(6) 
No sign or building in any residential district or within 300 feet of any residential district if within sight from it shall be illuminated between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. unless indicating an establishment open to the public during those hours.
(7) 
Luminaires intended solely to illuminate any freestanding sign or the walls of any building shall be shielded so that its direct light is confined to the surface of such sign or building, and its lumen output shall be such that the average illumination on the ground or on any vertical surface is not greater than 0.5 footcandle or five lux.
(8) 
No flashing, moving or revolving lights shall be maintained.
D. 
Exceptions.
(1) 
All temporary emergency lighting needed by the Police or Fire Departments or other emergency services, as well as all vehicular luminaires, shall be exempt from the requirements of this article.
(2) 
All hazard-warning luminaires required by federal regulatory agencies are exempt from the requirements of this article, except that all luminaires used shall be red and shall be shown to be as close as possible to the federally required minimum lumen output requirement for the specific task.
(3) 
Luminaires used to illuminate nighttime sporting events shall not exceed 35 feet. A greater luminaire height may be allowed by special permit from the Planning Board upon a finding that the increase in luminaire height will not negatively impact abutting properties, particularly property used or zoned for residential purposes. Such luminaires shall not be illuminated after 11:00 p.m.
E. 
Submission. The applicant for any permit under this section shall submit evidence that the proposed work will comply with this section. The submission shall contain, but shall not necessarily be limited to, the following:
(1) 
Plans indicating the location on the premises of each illuminating device, both existing and proposed.
(2) 
Description of all illuminating devices, fixtures, lamps, supports, reflectors, both existing and proposed. The description may include, but is not limited to, catalog cuts and illustrations by manufacturers (including sections where required).
(3) 
Photometric data, such as that furnished by manufacturers, or similar showing the angle of cut off of light emissions.
F. 
Definitions. The terms used in this section shall be defined as follows:
DIRECT LIGHT
Light emitted directly from the lamp, off the reflector or reflector diffuser, or through the refractor or diffuser lens of a luminaire.
FIXTURE
The assembly that houses the lamp or lamps, which can include all or some of the following parts: a housing, a mounting bracket or pole socket, a lamp holder, a ballast, a reflector or mirror and/or a refractor or lens.
FLOOD OR SPOT LIGHT (OR LUMINAIRE)
Any light fixture or lamp that incorporates a reflector or a refractor to concentrate the light output into a directed beam in a particular direction.
FULL CUTOFF
A luminaire designed with an opaque shield surrounding and extending below the lamp, such that no direct light is emitted above a horizontal plane.
GLARE
Light emitting from a luminaire with an intensity great enough to reduce a viewer's ability to see and in extreme cases causing momentary blindness.
HEIGHT OF LUMINAIRE
The vertical distance from the ground directly below the center line of the luminaire to the lowest direct-light-emitting part of the luminaire.
LAMP
The component of a luminaire that produces light.
LUMEN
A unit of luminous flux. One footcandle is one lumen per square foot; one lux is one lumen per square meter. For the purposes of this section, the lumen-output value shall be the initial lumen output rating of a lamp.
LUMINAIRE
A complete lighting system; that is, a lamp (or lamps) and a fixture.
OUTDOOR LIGHTING
The nighttime illumination of an outside area or object by any device located outdoors that produces light by any means.

§ 195-35 Temporary signs.

Temporary signs (including those mounted on wheels, trailers or motor vehicles if those vehicles, trailers or wheeled signs are regularly located for fixed display) are prohibited unless complying with all requirements of this chapter as applicable to permanent signs or as may be allowed herein.
A. 
Political signs. Temporary, freestanding political signs, not exceeding in aggregate 24 square feet in area, which are designed to influence the action of voters for the passage or defeat of a referendum question or other measure appearing on the ballot of an election duly called in the Town of Chelmsford or designed to influence the action of voters for election of a candidate whose name appears on the ballot of an election duly called in the Town of Chelmsford are allowed in all districts. It is the Town's preference that such signs be erected no sooner than 21 days prior to the date of election and be removed not later than 14 days after such election. Signs permitted by this subsection shall not be higher than three feet above ground level; shall not be artificially illuminated; shall be freestanding and not attached to a building, tree, utility pole or fence; shall be set back at least 15 feet from the street line; and shall only be located within the front or side yard area of the property. These signs require no sign permit.
[Amended 4-29-2013 ATM by Art. 27]
B. 
Construction signs. Temporary, freestanding signs may be erected on the premises to identify any building under construction and its owner, architect, builder or other associated with it, provided that such sign shall not exceed 60 square feet in area and shall not be erected to interfere with sight lines along the public way. Such sign shall be removed within seven days of the issuance of an occupancy permit. These signs require no sign permit if they are not more than 12 square feet in area and are removed within 30 days of erection.
C. 
Real estate signs. A temporary freestanding sign or signs attached to the front wall of the building and pertaining to the sale, rental or lease of the premises are allowed in all districts. Such sign shall be removed within seven days of the sale, rental or lease of said premises. These signs require no sign permit if the erecting agent has obtained a one-year permit from the Inspector of Buildings for erecting such signs. Signs advertising an open house shall be situated only on the property which is for sale and/or at nearby intersections to guide potential buyers to that location and only during the hours of the open house.
D. 
Yard sale signs. A sign advertising a yard sale shall not exceed two square feet in area, shall not be erected more than 72 hours before the sale and shall be removed immediately thereafter. No permit is required for a yard sale sign.

§ 195-36 Design and content guidelines.

These guidelines are not mandatory, but the degree of compliance with them shall be considered by the Board of Appeals in acting upon special permits authorized under this article, as shall consistency with the basic sign objectives and any specific criteria cited above.
A. 
Design.
(1) 
Any increase above the basic maxima for the size and number of signs should be justifiable because of multiple frontages, development scale or other special needs and should be appropriate in relation to street width, signage on nearby structures and speed of vehicular travel.
(2) 
Sign content normally should not occupy more than 40% of the sign background, whether a signboard or a building element.
(3) 
Signs should be simple, neat and avoid distracting elements so that contents can be quickly and easily read.
(4) 
Signs should be sized and located so as not to interrupt, obscure or hide the continuity of columns, cornices, roof eaves, sill lines or other elements of building structure and, where possible, should reflect and emphasize building structural form.
(5) 
Sign materials, form, colors and lettering shall be reflective of the character of the building to which the sign relates.
(6) 
Clutter should be avoided by not using support brackets extending above the sign or guy wires and turnbuckles.
B. 
Content.
(1) 
Signs should not display brand names, symbols or slogans of nationally distributed products except in cases where the majority of the floor or lot area on the premises is devoted to manufacturing, sale or other processing of that specific product.
(2) 
Premises chiefly identified by a product brand name (such as a gasoline or auto brand) should devote some part of their permitted sign area to also displaying the identity of the local outlet.
(3) 
Signs should not contain selling slogans, product descriptions, help wanted notices or other advertising that is not an integral part of the name or other identification of the location or the enterprise.

§ 195-37 Sign Advisory Committee.

A. 
A Sign Advisory Committee of five members shall be appointed by the Town Manager for three-year terms (except so arranged initially that no more than two terms expire each year). Members shall include at least one retail merchant operating in Chelmsford and two others preferably with a strong interest in architecture, landscape architecture or visual design. In addition a member of the Board of Appeals shall be designated by the Board as a nonvoting sixth member of the Sign Advisory Committee.
B. 
Procedure. All appeals to the Board of Appeals involving signs, applications for sign permits and all applications for special permits authorized hereunder shall be referred to the Sign Advisory Committee for its review and comment. No such appeal or application shall be acted upon prior to receipt of a report thereon from the Sign Advisory Committee, unless no report is received within 21 days from the date of referral of a sign permit application or 35 days from the date of referral of an appeal or special permit application. Any departure from the recommendations of the Sign Advisory Committee in the decision shall be explained in a written report from the authorizing agent to the Sign Advisory Committee, Board of Selectmen and Planning Board.